Borderlands: Session 23

Session twenty-three is coming up. Well… being honest, it’s probably closer to session 29, if one includes the Tomb of Annihilation. But because I didn’t do blogs for each session of that dungeon, it would leave a curious gap in my numbering. As such, I’m just continuing the numeration from where I left off.

This is a return to homebrew. I plan on beginning the session skipping ahead a month and narrating the return to civilization. The party managed to make the multi-week journey back the route the came, reclaimed their NPCs and horses, and sold off any valuable treasure they wished. Now, they are back in Norall, the hometown of Giles the Sharpshooter, who has long planned to rebuild the town. It was the backstory he invented prior to session one.


I sat down and figured out how much it would cost to build/ buy a home or building, based on the prices in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, writing a list of prices to build various structures. I also guesstimated how long a worker would take to erect such a building. I sent this to the players to prompt them to consider what they wished to build/ rebuild, along with a map of the town.

This allows the group to make the town their own, while also advancing the timeline a little. Give the PCs some worldbuilding, while also giving the players a different kind of game that’s almost the polar opposite of dungeon crawling.

An important part of this was also making the town feel alive. There needed to be an assortment of NPCs, such as the people sharing their homes with the heroes, the little kids seeking stories of the outside world, the cautious and paranoid residents to fear the outsiders, and the like. Maybe even a few romantic interests.

Regional Concerns

In addition to the town map, I drew up a regional map of the area a couple days ride in every direction.

This wasn’t too hard as I have several Photoshop maps close to the same scale, which I could pull layers from. The textures and bevelling had already been done, so I just needed to draw the actual location of the mountains and forests.

On my first attempt, I accidentally made the map scale too small at first. Brain fart and math error. Not uncommon since I have to continually convert travel times listed in miles in the PHB to familiar kilometers. It was easy enough to handwave and scaleup.

I had a few ideas for side concerns and mini-quests related to the town, and having a ready map can help with that. Easier to point to familiar landmarks and the like.

Basically, there will be regional problems and rumours, such as bandits or a mythical beast, which the players can get involved with or ignore. Little events that occur over time to reflect the passage of weeks and months. But also something to give the players a break from hex building.

These shouldn’t just be combat encounters. I also need to make sure there are some festivals and local fairs or events. NPCs whose relationship with the PCs can develop over time. And, because of time jumps, I can just introduce new NPCs and present them as someone the PCs already know. (But only in passing. I shouldn’t try and invent a friendship or close bond.)

As an added perk, I also threw some random markers on the map (A through E) and tasked my players with telling me what was there. I offered up some moderate experience and Inspiration for writing a point of interest. Which also makes the map seem less bland. Since I track experience asymmetrically, I can give extra experience as a reward.

Super Friends

Another concern is character ADHD. One of my players gets bored easily with characters and always has a new idea to try or concept to attempt. With the gap in time, he’ll be swapping out one character for another. The Sharpshooter’s player also expressed concern over whether his character would continue with the group following his completion of his character’s primary motivation.

As a result, the campaign might end up shifting to a campaign style I call “Super Friends”. Basically, there are a pool of characters, with only certain ones appearing in each story. Sometimes Aquaman might show up, but other times Batman or Black Vulcan appear instead. Which works best if the player characters have a home base where multiple adventures can start. A Hall of Justice. Which, for this party of the campaign, is the town being rebuilt.

Post-Game Report

Things went largely as expected. Chaotic and uneven. But as expected.

I had hoped to jump right to the building and town reconstruction after a grey boxed text trip to civilization, but the players kept interrupting and suggesting using newly learned spells like teleportation circle. And not all of treasure had been sold in the previous session. And then the still-flush-with-cash party really want to try and acquire magic weapons and do other tasks, delaying the start of the planned elements of the session.

I had hoped to begin with a harvest festival in Norall, when they arrived (since, pretty much entirely coincidentally) they’d be arriving in a mid-November period, close to the US Thanksgiving. However, the players just wanted to jump right into the planning and building, so that aspect got sidelined and forgotten. I’ll try again with “midwinter”.

A few players took point in rebuilding and planning, outlining what they planned to build and in what order. I had a few shorter roleplaying encounters and some contract negotiation with kobolds that can shift the tone of the world. Small little events that might shift how history unfolds in the region. Characters making ripples.

Not much time passed as I had hoped, but this was technically a planning session, and I was always going to be playing things by ear. Now armed with a firm list of what is to be built and when, I can slowly have the town reconstructed over the next few years and over the next couple sessions, planning out scenes following the completion of construction projects. (More on that next time.)

I also panicked a little near the end. I had some plans and ideas for bandits who report to a “bandit queen”, but as that aspect of the story unfolded I practically froze. I had ideas but very few solid plans, and after a half-dozen sessions running a prepublished adventure, my improvisation skills were weak and flabby again. Or rather, my confidence in my ability to improvise. I might have to warm those up some more. It didn’t help that I was considering using NPCs, and there is no “bandit queen” NPC statblock that can serve as a decent challenge for a level 9 party. It’s certainly easier when you can just pull a decent CR monster out of your pocket and dump it on the map.